October 24, 2007

What went wrong with anthropology of family structures?

Boasian cultural anthropology was a glamor field in academia in the 1950s, yet it is now among the least publicized. What went wrong?

For example, sci-fi great Robert Heinlein wrote Boas's student Margaret Mead into his 1957 sci-fi "juvenile" novel Citizen of the Galaxy. Young Thorby flees Sargon and is adopted into the extended family of Free Traders, a people who buy and sell anywhere in the galaxy. The rules of the spaceship crew / family are baffling to Thorby.

Fortunately, anthropologist Margaret Mader (i.e., Margaret Mead) is on board to explain why Thorby can't fall in love with any girls in his Starboard Moiety, but must find his bride on the Portside Moiety, along with the other complications of Free Trader family structure.

Family structure is interesting stuff, and obviously has real world applications for, say, all those countries where America has soldiers wandering around, such as Afghanistan and the borders of Somalia. But nobody is interested these days.

So, what went wrong? First, anthropologists became obsessed with what Robin Fox, the author of the 1967 textbook Kinship and Marriage calls "ethnographic dazzle." The exception became the rule. A few decades ago, you'd always hear arguments beginning, "Well, there's this one tribe where ..." which I parodied in The American Spectator in 1992 in "Report Cites Bias Against Women in Drug Rackets: 'Aspiring Female Traffickers Lack Role Models,' Notes Expert."

"All the experts indignantly dismiss biological conjectures purporting to explain why males seem more violent than females. "Then why are the Nuzwangdees of Guyana -- or is it the Wangduzees of New Guinea? Well, anyway, I heard there's some tribe somewhere where more women than men are into GrecoRoman wrestling, or is it Australian football?" retorts Dr. Charles Womyndaughter."

The point of all this is to deny that there is a basic human nature, in order to facilitate intellectuals being funded to carry out improbably social engineering projects.

Fox wrote in 1991:
"But find me a society without a kinship system, and one without one that operates on the six basic parameters I outlined ... Such societies do not exist. ... This being so the question becomes not whether or not we "socially construct" the kinship systems we have, but why we construct the limited number of types we do out of all the possible types."

The flip side of this is that there tend to be general patterns in family structure that follow regional and racial structures, suggesting that within the basic human nature, some variation has evolved.

Cultural anthropologists didn't want to hear that at all, so they intellectually emasculated their subject rather than follow the facts to their conclusions.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

There is a nice parallel in this description of family structures (of the enormous number of possible structures, why do we converge on a fairly small subset) and the way people argue for a biological basis for the structure of human language.

Anonymous said...

Boasian anthropology is a Jewish psywar operation. Prof. Watson is the latest victim of it.

Anonymous said...

The flip side of this is that there tend to be general patterns in family structure that follow regional and racial structures, suggesting that within the basic human nature, some variation has evolved.

Humans can also overcome their nature through socialization to some extent. Anthropologists have confused the ability to overcome human nature with the notion that there really is no human nature. The truth is that the stronger the natural impulse the more extensive and elaborate social prescriptions have to be in order to overcome them and the more likely one is to find deviants to those norms.

Norms that defy human nature are also not likely to be retained in places where they don't serve a purpose. For example, you won't find polyandry acceptable in many cultures where there isn't a chronic shortage of women.

Ron Guhname said...

Anthropology used to be an exciting discpline. As Steve has written, Carleton Coon was frickin' Indiana Jones. It was something an adventurous boy could get excited about. It's so PC now, it even puts square-dancing Puerto Rican hermaphrodites to sleep.

Anonymous said...

Here are two other important areas, this time from evolutionary psychology/sociobiology. Richard Dawkins wrote about them, then dropped them: the extended phenotype and the green beard effect. These have profound effects in humans, but if you think studying race and IQ offends people, try applying these two theories to humans.

Anonymous said...

Agree totally with your post, but there is one more related issue. Progressives these days really don't want to hear anything positive about the traditional married husband-and-wife-and-their-biological-children type of family. By extension, they don't want to hear anything else about family.

Anonymous said...

"What went wrong with anthropology of family structures?"

Cultural Marxism.

Anonymous said...

Heinlein also read Historical Particularist (and Structural Functionalist) anth works on kinship for _Farnham's Freehold_, in which a small 1950s white family from Colorado is catapulted into a future with a black majority population coupled with white servitude. I'm guessing he was just as fascinated by the civil rights movement of the day as anyone; he certainly wasn't a racist. The work (admittedly among his lesser efforts) failed the civil rights movement by not making the dark races more noble than whites. Civil rights leaders fail to notice the irony in crying for equality while holding out for positions of unassailable superiority, at least for the individual leader.

Heinlein had his future adopt the African practice of inheritance through the nephew, not understanding (or at least not mentioning) the reason such a custom came into existance; African men don't know which children are their descendants. The children of their wives may not carry the husband's genetic material. The only guarantee of supporting one's genetic lineage is through one's sister's children, which is only a 1/4 investment as opposed to a 1/2 investment if you believe your wife's children are yours.

It was still a better book than _It Takes A Village_. Hillary never learned the reason either.